Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

10 May 2019

The young demand change

Posted by Michael Keating

Climate change is forcing us into a historic shift that will remake our societies. If we do not virtually stop pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we will destroy our civilization. If we do make the drastic cuts needed, we will have to make seismic changes in how we use energy and how we manage forests and other wild lands. The last time the world faced such a dramatic decision was in the second half of the past century, when we were at imminent risk of nuclear war. I remember a time of fear and ferment. Those of us who lived in North America feared a nuclear war with the then Soviet Union. It would have killed tens of millions, and devastated the planet with radiation, fires and smoke that would have shut out the sun, causing “nuclear winter.” Young people, the baby boom generation, reacted with anti-nuclear peace marches around the world. It’s harder to calculate the impact of peace marches, but by the late 1980s there was a shift among major nuclear powers toward a reduction in missiles and a de-escalation in nuclear threats.

 

Anti-nuclear protest in 1961
Credit: AP Photo / Lindlar

 

There is always the potential for a nuclear war among the great powers, but it seems unlikely now. Today the greatest single threat to civilization is environmental decline, particularly climate change. It is forcing us to change. The question is will the change be peaceful and organized or will it be chaotic and harmful. Faced with the crisis, many politicians and business leaders seem frozen like deer in the headlights. They have made some gestures toward curbing pollution, but it is far from enough to save the planet. Last year greenhouse gas emissions were rising. As in the last century, many young people are taking up the cause, with their own marches and demonstrations trying to push the world to action.

The anti-nuclear protestors of the past century had leaders such as British philosopher Bertrand Russell and Australian physician Dr. Helen Caldicott. The leading figure for today’s climate protests is 16-year-old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg. Last year she skipped school to sit on the steps of her country’s Parliament with a sign demanding the government do more to stop climate change. She has become a Joan of Arc like figure for student protestors around the world. This year there have been worldwide student “climate strikes” with tens of thousands skipping classes to march in protest against political failures to stop climate change. Also last year a group in the United Kingdom formed the Extinction Rebellion movement to protest against failure to stop climate change. Peaceful protesters barricaded roads and bridges at major city landmarks. They shut down parts of London as people attached or even glued themselves to buildings. At one point police had to stop arresting protestors because they ran out of holding cells.

 

Extinction rebellion, London UK, 2019
Credit: AP

 

It’s too early to tell what impact if any these protests will have more than 450 communities around the world and some higher levels of government, including the United Kingdom and Ireland, have declared climate emergencies. Some are backing up the declarations with actions to move to renewable energy.

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